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Authors: Elizabeth Bailey

Tags: #regency romance, #clean romance, #sweet romance, #traditional romance, #comedy of manners, #country house regency

VIscount Besieged (7 page)

BOOK: VIscount Besieged
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A tear sneaked
over her lashes as she remembered Papa’s laughing words.

an ugly building. I cannot imagine what possessed my
great-grandfather to employ such a poor architect.’

Ugly, yes, but
it was
Somehow, its very ugliness, its lack of line
and form, seemed all of a piece with the spirit of the inhabitants
within. There was no order to their lives, no beauty of shape or
design, although the servants managed to keep the shut saloon
downstairs in some semblance of tidiness. All was chaos and
comfort. And, to say truth, the arrangement of the rooms inside the
house only added to the sense of disarray.

From the big
drawing-room at the front, which benefited from the many windows,
one might penetrate at either end into smaller rooms. One of these
had been Papa’s sitting-room in the first throes of his illness,
when he had not been confined to bed, and was now given over to the
sole use of Mrs Alvescot who was wont to doze there in the
afternoon. The other had ever been Cousin Matty’s sitting-room, in
use most of the time as a playroom for her two children.

All the other
rooms—bedchambers, most of them, except for the informal family
dining parlour—were of the oddest shapes and sizes, and could be
entered by only one door from the central corridor. Downstairs, as
well as the one good saloon, was the library, the formal
dining-room, a couple of musty parlours and the range of domestic
offices in use by the servants. The wing comprised the bedrooms of
the younger members of the family, and housed those privileged
servants who were not obliged to sleep in the attics.

The groom’s
gruff voice interrupted her mental wander through the house.
‘Hadn’t ye better stop your dreaming, Miss Dora? We’ll be

Isadora blinked
hastily and looked round at Totteridge. ‘I was thinking of

aye?’ uttered the man sceptically. ‘I guessed you was thinking of
yon lord, come to tak’ the place over.’

I am
not thinking of him at all,’ stated Isadora crossly. ‘At least, I
wasn’t. Now you have made me do so, and I had as lief

Aye,’ agreed Totteridge feelingly, ‘Especially if you’re goin’
to stamp about in one o’ your tantrums, Miss Dora.’

I do
not have tantrums,’ objected Isadora, urging her mount onward and
heading down the hill alongside the groom.

aye? And I don’t have no horses to look after neither.’

Isadora ignored
this heavy sarcasm, reflecting that at least Totteridge had
succeeded in diverting her out of those dangerous memories. She
wondered if that had been his intention. Ever faithful, he rode
with her whenever she wished, night and morning, when either
Rowland or Fanny on the pony did not accompany her instead. The
elder ladies never ventured out on horseback, but would instead
take the air in the only unsold open carriage.

It was not so
odd, she supposed, that she should be thinking of all this now, on
the brink of change. She had never thought much about home and the
life they all led. Not until now, when everything she knew might be
snatched away from her. It was not the same as if she had married,
or indeed if she had left to become an actress. They were
It was a very different thing to have the place
torn from her by an outsider.

she put spurs to Juliet’s side, and the mare increased her pace to
a canter. It was as well they had already negotiated the steepest
part of the hill. They crossed the greensward that ran past the
orchard at the same speed, and then Totteridge called out to her as
the wall surrounding the back gardens loomed up.

Don’t ye put her at that fence, Miss Dora! Hold hard and I’ll
ope’ the gate.’

Isadora reined
in to wait for the gate to be opened wide. Then she trotted Juliet
through and on to the stables. Totteridge dismounted and gave
Titian into the charge of an under groom, and was just assisting
his mistress to alight when voices caught her attention.

She turned from
the horse in time to see the entire family coming around the corner
of the house towards the stable-block. With them was

here’s Dora,’ exclaimed Rowland. ‘I told you she would be out
riding, Cousin Ellen.’

Mrs Alvescot
threw out her hands. ‘Dora, my love, what a pity you were not with
us. Here we have all been, showing Lord Roborough over his new

clutched within Isadora’s heart. Her eyes darkened as they went to
the viscount’s face. How could they? How could

Her voice shook.
‘Already? You don’t waste much time, do you?’




Chapter Three


Roborough met
the reproach in those brown eyes and inwardly cursed. He might have
known it. Very well to allow the rest of the family’s persuasions
to prevail, but he should have anticipated this.

For it had not
been his choice to set off immediately on an inspection of the
place. How indelicate of him it would be to demand it almost upon
his arrival, as if he could not wait to take possession.
Particularly after the length of time he had taken to come here at

Not that he
could have avoided that. Indeed, if it had not become imperative
that he look over the possibilities at Pusay, he doubted whether
he would have been able to find the time to come here even now. But
the Pusay residents had not given him any choice. He did not know
if he was glad or otherwise when they stated this fact in no
uncertain terms.

wasn’t his fault,’ protested Rowland.

decided to take him about,’ said Fanny, adding in a superior tone,
‘and you might have guessed it, Dora, if you weren’t so ready to
take offence.’

ought to apologise at once, Dora,’ proposed Cousin Matty

God, no,’ interrupted Roborough involuntarily. ‘Don’t ask her to
do that, for pity’s sake!’

He saw, as he
spoke, that Isadora’s eyes had softened. A muscle twitched in her
cheek. Was she trying to keep from laughing? He had spoken
unintentionally, but it seemed as if it might have served a useful

Matty, pray don’t enrage her,’ he heard Mrs Alvescot begging
of her cousin in an undertone. Aloud to her daughter she said,
‘Dora, you know the stables better than any of us. Why do not you
show Lord Roborough the horses?’

Pooh!’ broke in Rowland. ‘As if she would. I’ll show him the
stables.’ As he spoke he ran into the entrance to the block,
calling back to Roborough, ‘Come on, sir. We’ve a few tidy good
’uns in here.’

hesitated, glancing across at Isadora. ‘Won’t you join us, Miss

Isadora had
swung from anger to remorse and back again, in so violent a fashion
that she had been unable to find speech. Then, just as anger
threatened to get the upper hand, this infuriating man not only
cast her to the brink of laughter, but overrode her cousin to
invite her participation in the tour of the stables. Must he be so
unfailingly pleasant? And must he smile at her in that irritatingly
irresistible manner?

Within an ace of
announcing that she had to go and change out of her cloth habit of
dark blue, she relented.


She heard her
mother sigh and almost retracted. But the viscount was standing at
the entrance to the stables, waiting, and Cousin Matty was nodding
encouragement. Fanny’s sour pout decided her. She walked into the
stables, to find Rowland ready and eager to discourse on Titian’s
manifold points as the under groom rubbed the horse

listened with only half an ear. He found himself thinking how well
a riding habit became Isadora Alvescot. The jacket, tight to the
waist where the petticoats flared out, emphasised her curves as the
black satin gown, with its high waist, so popular at this time, did
not. Her height enhanced the costume too and her black locks, now
coaxed to the side under a beaver hat, curled attractively over one

Why in the name
of all the gods was she still unwed? What was she—nineteen? Twenty?
Not less. Perhaps more. No, she could not be more, for Thornbury
had told him she had still not attained her majority.

Not that it
mattered. Even were she more than one and twenty, he had still to
provide for her somehow. As he must for them all, God knew

His thoughts ran
on as Rowland continued his eulogy, Roborough interpolating a
suitable word or two at convenient moments. But his mind was far
from horses. He had been with this unfortunate family for less than
an afternoon, yet already he was aware that Thornbury’s guarded
comments had by no means given him a full picture.

Mrs Alvescot,
now. A helpless creature, if ever he saw one. Anxious she might be,
but it was plain that she was used to someone else taking
responsibility for her and it had not been at all difficult to
allay any fears she had expressed.

Having shown him
to his bedchamber, she had insisted on summoning Hampole, the
butler—a frail and doddering individual who seemed only to add to
the general helplessness of the Alvescot household—to warn him to
expect Lord Roborough’s chaise, and to instruct his valet on
arrival where to bring his lordship’s accoutrements.

I dare say you would like to see around the house,’ she had said,
glancing up and down the corridor in a vague way as if she sought
enlightenment on a mammoth task. ‘Oh dear, I wonder where Matty is.
She is much better than I at this sort of thing.’

beg you will not inconvenience yourself, ma’am,’ he said

but you will wish to know your way about at once, for it is your
house. It is not true that you are just a guest, and perhaps if you
take your place straight away we may all of us be more
comfortable.’ Her rounded countenance gazed anxiously up at him.
‘Or don’t you think so?’

smiled. ‘My only wish is to see you comfortable, Mrs

A great sigh
escaped the lady. ‘There now; if I did not say to Dora over and
over again that it must be so.’ Then she lowered her voice a
trifle, glancing over her shoulder as if she feared to be
overheard. ‘I must tell you, Lord Roborough, that, though it may
make me more comfortable, I cannot answer for Dora. I only hope you
will not take it amiss if she—if she…’

Her voice
petered out, and she could only cast him a look imploring his
understanding. Roborough concealed his amusement. It was easy to
see who had the ordering of things here—not Mrs Alvescot but her
strong-minded daughter. He leaned conspiratorially towards

tell you the truth, ma’am, I had already surmised that Miss
Alvescot does not view my coming with any very great

Mrs Alvescot
sighed. ‘Dear me, no. She is used, you see, to do very much as she
chooses and she did not take at all kindly to Matty’s suggestion
that you might take it into your head to—’

Then she broke
off, evidently recognising that these intimacies were addressed to
one who was little more than a stranger.

I must not run on so. Let us go at once to the drawing-room and
engage Matty’s good offices. She is a dear creature. Such a comfort
to me.’

Roborough had
begun to realise that
constituted the sum of Mrs
Alvescot’s ambition. He knew the type: so indolent, so easy-going
that any undue exertion or call to tax their very limited
brainpower became a strain upon them, yet so universally pleasant
and easy to please that they were invariably surrounded by loving
families who did everything they could to encourage their laziness.
Isadora, in every way opposite, must, he supposed, have taken after
her father.

Although there
was a resemblance in feature here. About the eyes, he thought. For
Mrs Alvescot’s brown orbs were set in the same wide hollow that
characterised her daughter’s vividly expressive eyes, topped by the
same arched brow. Her hands, too, were given to gestures that found
an echo in Isadora’s own movements. And, for all her plumpness,
Mrs Alvescot moved with a flow similar to that which added so much
grace to her daughter’s carriage.

He would not
have noticed so much but for the fact of having watched Isadora
performing her Juliet in the gardens. A rare opportunity. It was
not often that one had the chance to study a female unconscious of
one’s gaze. Although, he recalled with a quickening of interest,
she had not laid on any arts to attract even when she had become
conscious of his presence. A refreshing change.

And she did not
do so now, he reflected, glancing again at her as she stroked the
muzzle of her mare. Far from it. She was much too involved in
talking of her horse, and, he noted in passing, of her father, for
it seemed that Mr Alvescot had chosen the animal.

Roborough could
not tell if her joy in the beast or her patent admiration of her
father’s knowledge of horseflesh was uppermost. Mr Alvescot had
evidently been a man beloved in his family circle. How different
from his own case.

BOOK: VIscount Besieged
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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